The global sanitation crisis is one of the most critical sustainable development challenges facing the world today. In this discussion paper, we explore the business case for corporate action on sanitation and identify several ways the private sector can make an impact.
What is the global sanitation crisis?
Approximately 2.5 billion people, almost 40 percent of the global population, do not have access to toilets or other ways to safely dispose of their urine and feces. More than 1 billion people still practice open defecation. Though open defecation is most prevalent in rural areas, it is on the rise in cities and urban areas (UNICEF and WHO 2014).
- Sanitation: The provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and feces
- Improved sanitation: Facilities, such as flush toilets, that ensure the hygienic separation of human urine and feces from human contact
- WASH: Water, sanitation, and hygiene
- Open defecation: Defecation in fields, streets, forests, bodies of water, or other open spaces
Photographer credit: WaterAid/Juthika Howlader
How does this crisis affect communities, the environment, and the economy?
- Health: Half a million children die every year from diarrhea due to poor WASH services (UN IGME 2013). Sanitation can reduce the risk of diarrhea by more than 30 percent (Cairncross et al. 2010).
- Productivity: Diarrheal disease is a major factor in impeding human health and productivity worldwide (WHO 2004). Achievement of the MDG water and sanitation targets would lead to a projected increase of 3.2 billion productive days (Hutton and Haller 2004).
- Education and gender equality: Many children are forced to miss school due to illness related to inadequate sanitation (UNICEF 2012). Achievement of the MDG water and sanitation targets would result in an estimated increase of 272 million school days per year (Hutton and Haller 2004).
- Economy: Global economic losses associated with inadequate sanitation are an estimated US$260 billion per year (Sanitation Drive 2015 2014a). One dollar spent on sanitation brings an average return of more than five dollars (Hutton 2012).
- Water resources: In the developing world, raw sewage is regularly discharged into rivers, polluting freshwater sources used by communities, agriculture, and industry (UN-Water 2010). For example, in India, 80 percent of sewage goes untreated into freshwater sources (CSE 2013).
How does improving and promoting sanitation benefit businesses?
How can companies help ensure adequate sanitation for all? They can…
- Ensure direct operations offer reliable access to improved sanitation for all employees
- Encourage and incentivize value chain partners to provide sanitation to all employees
- Partner with governments, NGOs, and others to advance sanitation in nearby communities, build capacity, advocate for effective public policy, raise awareness, enable adequate financing, and more